Friday, December 18, 2015

The Musical Advent Calendar - Door Number Eighteen

Proper Bond villains, air drumming, journalistic's not clear what is the most out-dated notion behind door 18 of the Musical Advent Calendar, but we've got our No. 7 albums of the year here too so it at least partly makes sense. 

Andy Welch
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Bella Union)

To think this guy was once 'just' the drummer in Fleet Foxes… The lyrics, the sumptuous arrangements, the humorous live shows, he's a master of it all. 'Chateau Lobby #4' is one of the most perfect songs I've heard in years.

Rory Dollard
Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space (Test Card Recordings)

There's a part of me that sort of feels like this is the best album of the year. Not the part of me that belatedly responds to Ian's pleas for lists, or reviews, but a part nonetheless. They had me from minute one - a sample of the inimitable John F Kennedy - and they deliver on that promise in spades. The method is fascinating - a single story told with journalistic rigour (no sniggering at the back), artistic flair and romantic wonder. Of course there is an element of cut-and-paste to the vocal sampling, but it's nearly always exquisitely selected and intelligently presented. An intellectual and emotional success.

Matt Collins
EL VY - Return to the Moon (4AD)

Matt from The National has gone all sexy on us. Taking a break from singing about lost loves in a sad crooner voice with the National, he's got his sexy green shirt on and isn't afraid to refer to the bits on record. EL VY, is pretty similar the National’s distinctive sound, just weirdly cheap sounding guitars. And more playful National is surely a project we can all get behind.

Dom Farrell
Ghostpoet - Shedding Skin (Pias)

Moving away from the minimal, icy electronia of his first two acclaimed records, Obara Ejimiwe’s decision to eschew bedroom production and hook up with a live band could easily have gone awry. Thankfully, Shedding Skin is a triumph. A judiciously picked revolving door of special guests never dilute from Ejimiwe’s vision - an subtle and often beautiful state of the nation address via the medium of laconic drawl.

Andrew Gwilym
Titus Andronicus - The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge)

Titus Andronicus, and particularly lyricist and vocalist Patrick Stickles, do not do anything straightforward. The Monitor, their best album to date, was a Civil War tale with Craig Finn pretending to be Abraham Lincoln, so you get the picture. They have surpassed themselves with this 92-minute, 29-track epic. I would give you the back story to this sprawling work, but the bottom line is this is every bit as enjoyable a listen without it. Stickles is on biting form but maybe the most surprising part of this how a lot of the raw edge has been removed from their sound. At times they sound like the E Street Band, on other occasions the sound mimics Bat Out of Hell Meatloaf, and it’s thrilling.

John Skilbeck
Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)

The box set, the new record, the tour (those life-affirming Manchester and Glasgow shows), the Carrie Brownstein book. Come the year’s end I’ve carelessly started to take the second coming of my favourite band for granted. Maybe they won’t make another record though. If they don’t, this comeback album will prove a fitting finale. After almost 10 years away, they returned with a record teeming with electrifying force and conviction: a set of instant Sleater-Kinney classics. After going on “indefinite hiatus” in 2006, a step that Brownstein’s book reveals was more agonising than many realised, it was a joy to welcome them back.

Pranam Mavahalli
Four Tet – Morning/Evening (Text)

Every Four Tet album that's been out since the advent calendar has been going has made it onto my list. Maybe I lack objectivity when it comes to his music, but I think it's more that I respect his restlessly inventive spirit and his will to keep pushing forward. Where other artists I've respected have fallen to the wayside, I can always rely on the fact that each new Four Tet record will surprise. The new one's no different. The samples of Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar provide an emotional and spiritual counterpoint to the clubby throb of the techno that lies beneath. It's another great release from one of this country's true innovators.

Ian Parker
Matthew E. White - Fresh Blood (Spacebomb)

I have a theory that the Spacebomb studios are like the musical equivalent of a Bond villain's lair. Little figures in white coats (everything is white) scuttle around manically seeking an almost unattainable level of musical perfection. I actually asked them about it once. They said it was true and said I could head over and see for myself. I continue to sporadically check flight prices to Virginia. In the meantime, we have records like this to bring it all to life. 

Guy Atkinson
The World is a Beautiful Place and I am no Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness (Epitaph)

Sure, it’s emo for the Pitchfork generation but an album of this scope and ambition deserves attention and it got a whole heap of mine this year. Also, that name.

Steve Pill
Beach Slang – The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (Big Scary Monsters)

Call this a nostalgia pick or a momentary lapse of critical faculties, I'm not sure. Beach Slang is a Philly bar band in excelsis: earnest, urgent, heartfelt, thrilling. Lyrically they are no poets - just a quick scan of the tracklisting for this and their other equally ace 2015 mini-album, Broken Thrills, reveals a litany of sound-alike titles: 'Punk or Lust', 'Filthy Luck', 'All Fuzzed Out', 'Dirty Lights'. Musically at times this sounds like the Psychedelic Furs-gone-shoegaze or a trebly 1980s indie version of the Hold Steady, at other times I've mistaken them for Feeder. I should be alarmed by some or all of this, but I'm too busy air drumming to care.

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